Why you should watch Outlander online
The Outlander book and TV series is historical fiction, set in both in 1945 and 1740s Scotland; it follows the story of Claire Randall (married to Frank Randall, until her disappearance), a former nurse, and Jamie Fraser, a Highlander Scot from the 1740s. The last episode of the first seasons of Starz’s Outlander aired in the UK on May 31, 2015 bringing the season to a close. TV viewers and fans of the original book series now look forward to the start of the second season next year, and the TV channel is hoping for Emmy award nominations.
As a historian, it is always a triumphant feeling when historical fiction is made into TV productions that attempt some authenticity. The author of the series, Diana Gabaldon, was originally a sciences university researcher. She stated that she spent time researching the period to make it authentic and appeal to the reader.
Her attention to detail is noticeable in her descriptions of tavern beds and the grimy surroundings many people lived in. The fear of the unknown by locals and their hesitance to befriend the main character, Claire, shows Gabaldon’s attempts at a faithful historical narrative. The way Gabaldon depicted the rise of the Jacobites and the brutalities of the English brings up questions of the way the way the British present their narrative as a country—this information is often not the focus in UK schools. Another example, the way Claire and Jamie decide in the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, to attempt to stop Bonnie Prince Charlie from gaining funds from France to fight in Scotland. The effects of this are immediate and show to Claire that changing history and events is incredibly tricky due to the number of players involved.
One of the most difficult aspects of the series (based on the first three novels and TV series) is the characterisation of Claire. She is often depicted as speaking her mind and independent, but she is often mindful of what her territory is as a wife. Especially, this is noticeable in what she is/is not allowed to say to her husband Frank in 1945. She is occasionally more straightforward to her highlander Scott husband Jamie in 1743—only to be reprimanded for it. This dynamic is rather odd, and as an English woman from 1945 she is by no means emancipated nor sees herself as an equal to her husbands.
Reading this book through the lens of a historian makes me appreciate the dedication to making all the characters historically believable, as well as the representation of the time period in question. However, as a reader, it is questionable whether it would have been more interesting and effective to have Claire be a truly modern heroine. The first book was written in 1991, and whilst some things have changed in the past twenty years, Claire as a contemporary woman would have been much more of a delight to read.
Reading this book in conjunction with Greg Jenner’s A Million Years in One Day for contextualisation, the Outlander series provides a good way to spend the free time I do not have (each book is around 800 pages).
Watch the first series on Amazon Prime
Buy the book on Amazon or borrow it from your local library